From Paul Kelly | indycar.com
NEWGARDEN TWO-STEPS TEXAS IN ANOTHER THRILLER
Josef Newgarden timed it just right once again to earn his second consecutive victory at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday in the PPG 375 after a scintillating NTT INDYCAR SERIES race perfectly described as “beautiful chaos.”
Newgarden drove his No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet past the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet of Pato O’Ward for the lead on Lap 249 of the 250-lap speed carnival just moments before Romain Grosjean crashed in Turn 2 in the No. 28 DHL Honda, triggering the last of five caution periods and ending the race under yellow.
It was the second straight year of perfect timing on the 1.5-mile oval for two-time series champion Newgarden, who passed Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin exiting Turn 4 on the last lap for victory last year.
“Pato gave me all the respect in the world when he was racing next to me,” Newgarden said. “It was really hard to fight those guys. I think (Alex) Palou was super strong, too. There are just no gimmes. It was packed up today, very difficult to get away.
“There were parts when we were good, parts when we were weaker. But when we needed to be good, the car was there at the end.”
Newgarden, who led a race-high 123 laps, averaged 169.917 mph for his 26th career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory. Newgarden, from Nashville, Tennessee, also extended his streak to nine consecutive seasons with at least one victory.
2021 season champion Palou finished third in the No. 10 The American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, followed by David Malukas in the No. 18 HMD Trucking Honda in an impressive performance for the series sophomore driving for one of the smallest teams in the series.
“My new word for this week is going to be ‘beautiful chaos,’” Malukas said. “I loved it. I was having a blast.”
Six-time series champion Scott Dixon rounded out the top five in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, as CGR placed two cars in the top five. O’Ward took the championship lead by seven points over St. Petersburg winner Marcus Ericsson with his second consecutive runner-up finish of the season.
“I was timing the tow, but it’s been a hell of a start to the year,” O’Ward said. “The guys gave me an absolute rocket ship. Everybody that was watching the race midway through pretty sure saw that.”
Indeed. The dramatic, two-wide, three-deep pack racing that unfolded on the high-banked Texas asphalt over the closing 20 laps was a dramatic contrast to O’Ward’s breathtaking speed and dominance halfway through the race.
O’Ward took the lead for the first time on Lap 109. By Lap 160, he had lapped the entire 28-car field except for Newgarden, who was nearly six seconds behind in second.
But O’Ward’s imperious march was halted when teammate and NTT P1 Award winner Felix Rosenqvist crashed his No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet in Turn 4 on Lap 179.
That incident unleashed a high-speed game of tactical chess on track and on pit stands up and down the field for the remaining laps, as drivers and strategists devised the optimal time to pit for fuel and tires. It was half-smarts, half-dice roll.
Six cars that were one lap down got the wave-around to the lead lap when O’Ward and Newgarden pitted alone as the sole cars on the lead lap with 68 laps remaining.
That regroup spawned the wild, thrilling side-by-side racing that filled every inch of the racing groove over the last 57 laps. After the restart on Lap 193 following Rosenqvist’s crash, there were 14 lead changes among five different drivers.
O’Ward and Newgarden swapped the lead five times in the last eight laps before Grosjean’s race-ending incident while he was dicing and slicing with the lead pack, too, in his most impressive oval race performance yet.
Newgarden grabbed the front on Lap 242, with O’Ward reclaiming the top spot one lap later. Then it was Newgarden’s turn to take the point one trip later on Lap 244, with O’Ward nosing ahead on Lap 247.
Then Newgarden finally got in front just in time on Lap 249, just a few exhilarating breaths before the yellow flag flew for the last time. In total, the race featured 26 lead changes among eight drivers.
Newgarden will split $10,000 with Team Penske and his chosen charities, SeriousFun Children’s Network and Wags and Walks Nashville, for his victory as part of the PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge.
The next NTT INDYCAR SERIES race is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 16 on the streets of Long Beach, California. Live coverage starts at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
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Photo's: INDYCAR | Josef Newgarden social | Bell Racing | Team Penske